Skipping school: CF enrollment down this fall

Jed Arcenal walks to his next class at the College of Central Florida in Ocala on Aug. 31. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]
Like many community colleges in the state and the nation, the College of Central Florida is continuing to see a decline in its enrollment numbers in the fall.

While final numbers for the 2021-22 year are still incomplete, CF’s Saul Reyes has seen large declines in the number of students enrolling for classes this fall.

Reyes, the vice president of enrollment management and student affairs, said it’s a trend made worse by the continuing pandemic.

“CF serves a high proportion of Pell-eligible students and part-time students,” said Reyes. “Students who typically are being pulled in many directions and priorities including family, work career and education. The pandemic has just tipped the balance during very trying times. Many students have discontinued education while attending to family, work and health concerns”

In 2020-21, CF had 9,997 registered students enrolled (annual enrollment, unduplicated, credit and noncredit students), a 0.5% drop from a year before when CF had 10,032 registered students. That was a 7.3% drop from the 2018-19 year when 10,823 students were enrolled.

“Some students have found it difficult to balance remote learning and childcare in the same home. Their education and their children’s education are competing for limited time,” said Reyes. “And education is a great investment in themselves, their career and future earnings. It transforms their life and impacts their family’s future too.”

In addition to Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds, said Reyes, CF is offering scholarships, Patriot Emergency Funds, an emergency textbook fund and a laptop loaner program to help students continue with their education.

Despite these supports, many students are still having trouble reengaging in classwork.

“We are in the process of adding new programs in health sciences including cardiovascular technology, dental hygiene, respiratory therapist, sonography and surgical services,” said Reyes. “The programs will meet critical community needs, offer additional career opportunities to students, and also influence enrollment.

“We are hopeful that in-person class options, masks and vaccines will give students reassurance to continue,” added Reyes.

CF President Jim Henningsen doesn’t feel that cost should be a barrier to education.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Henningsen, “we have distributed more than $6 million in HEERF for approximately 3,400 CF students to use for course materials, technology, food, housing, healthcare and childcare.”

In the last few months, CF has forgiven more than $333,351 in student debt for 438 students, said Henningsen, which removed financial barriers for them to re-enroll and continue their education.

Students who enroll this year will also be eligible for HEERF support in addition to financial aid, including more than $2 million in scholarships available annually, said Henningsen.

“CF is also more accessible now than it ever has been,” he said. “Our campuses are alive with in-person classes and student events. And we are still offering online classes for those students who prefer the format.”

Student services are also available in person or virtually.

“We are here for students now and we will be here tomorrow, ready to prepare them for work and life,” said Henningsen. “We are so proud of our faculty and staff, the way they handled the pandemic and continued to provide a quality learning experience for our students.”

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